The Waterfront Blues Festival is the largest celebration of jazz, blues, and folk music west of the Mississippi. Join us for a long weekend filled with amazing performances across four stages, food, vendors, river boat cruises, and more!
The Waterfront Blues Festival celebrates the Fourth of July each year with a spectacular display of fireworks, the largest July 4 fireworks display in Oregon.
The largest in Oregon and one of Sunset Magazine’s “Best Places to See 4th of July Fireworks.” Launched from two barges on the river, the fireworks are not to be missed!
“22 minutes of fireworks sounds rad, right? How about 22 minutes of fireworks with a bluesy soundtrack? Go America!” – Willamette Week
Of the festival’s two alternating main stages, which play to our audience from opposite ends of Waterfront Park’s grassy ‘bowl,’ the Brewery Stage has the slightly larger footprint. It has hosted such major headliners as Robert Plant, Buddy Guy, Joss Stone, Steve Miller, Mavis Staples, Gregg Allman, Boz Skaggs, Macy Gray and Taj Mahal — who all have called the stage, with its backdrop of the Willamette River and distant snow-capped peak of Mount Hood, one of the most spectacular venues they’ve ever played.
Located at the north end of the park’s ‘bowl’, our other alternating main stage, The ‘Blues Stage’ with its lower profile, has offered fans an intimate, up-close concert experience from such diverse artists as Charlie Musselwhite, Femi Kuti, Canned Heat, Greyboy Allstars, JJ Grey & Mofro, and Robert Randolph & the Family Band.
With its Louisiana bayou theme, shaded seating areas, and packed dance floor, the Front Porch Stage provides an informal setting in which to hear anything from Gulf Coast Zydeco and Cajun groups, to acoustic sets from Mississippi blues men and women, to Big Band ‘jump blues’, and our annual “harmonica blow-off.” Out front, one of the region’s largest outdoor dance floors is rockin’ all weekend with Zydeco, blues and swing dancers.
For more on dance lessons, see related sections on Zydeco and Portland Blues Experience.
The Louisiana Pavilion is presented by the Mysti Krewe of Nimbus, Portland’s very own Mardi Gras Krewe! Swing by to visit, pass a good time, and learn about Louisiana and Southern culture. Plan to join the joyful second-line parade, complete with costumes, beads, and a brass band. The Krewe will be on hand to share information about some of the music of Louisiana, Mardi Gras culture, and more! Kids of all ages can learn about Mardi Gras traditions and enjoy the craft area. More information on the Mysti Krewe of Nimbus can be found on their website and on Facebook.
The Louisiana Pavilion is also home to:
- Oregon Music News, the state’s most thorough online publication of regional music news, whose writers will be filing reports from the Pavilion. Oregon Music News.
- Cascade Zydeco, with news of upcoming dances and performances.
- Portland Blues Experience [PBEx] ‘Ask Me Where To Dance’ booth, with info about swing and blues dance classes and happenings.
- The PBEx ‘Kids Crafts Area’ featuring activities for kids each day.
- Louisiana Office of Tourism with information on the state’s bayous, juke joints and many festivals.
- Band Merchandise booth, where performers on the Front Porch Stage will be signing and selling CDs, T-shirts andmemorabilia.
- The Portland/Louisiana Connection
Since the festival’s inception, the blues-based music of the Gulf Coast has been strongly represented on the event’s lineups. In the past decade, the festival has featured more than 50 acts from New Orleans and Louisiana including headliners Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Neville Brothers, the Wild Magnolias and Irma Thomas, to support acts like Hot 8, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Rebirth Brass Band, Terrence Simien, Eddie Bo, Tabby Thomas, Raful and Kenny Neal, Henry Gray, Anders Osborn, Tab Benoit, Kermit Ruffins, Marva Wright, Sherman Robertson, John Cleary, Mem Shannon, Sonny Landreth, John Boutte and many more. The festival’s commitment to the Gulf has gone beyond its interest in the region’s music and culture. In September 2005, only weeks after the hurricane made landfall, the Waterfront Blues Festival and Oregon Food Bank produced Blues for Katrina, featuring displaced New Orleans musicians. The concert raised more than $125,000 for Gulf Coast hurricane relief.
The Crossroads Stage offers in-depth educational workshops, interviews and demonstrations by festival artists aimed at blues novices as well as experts. Presentations on the intimate stage have ranged from “Post-Katrina New Orleans” by New Orleans “Soul Queen” Irma Thomas, to Blues Photography by historian Dick Waterman, to harmonica clinics by Charlie Musselwhite and James Cotton, to percussion workshops for kids.
Bill Rhoades hosts his annual Harmonica Blowoff July 4 on the Front Porch Stage. Over the years featured harmonica aces, backed by an all-star rhythm section, have included blues legends as well as regional stars like Randy Chortkoff, Lynwood Slim, Johnny Dyer, John Nemeth, Paul deLay, Scott Dirks, Carey Bell, Kenny & Raful Neal, Gary Primich, Paul deLay, Curtis Salgado, Mitch Kashmar, Chris O’Leary…and of course, longtime blues DJ harmonica master and MC, Bill Rhoades.
For those who just can’t sit still during the music….there’s the Front Porch Stage. Since 2000, when a small group of locals danced on the grassy slope at the South Stage to Terrance Simien Zydeco Band, the draw of Zydeco has grown exponentially. In recent years this means a large dance floor and multiple bands for two days and nights of non-stop music and dancing. “It’s where the party is!” say a lot of festival-goers.
You can hear the Delta Blues influences in Zydeco, but also African and Caribbean touches that Louisiana Creoles blend with the local Cajun music brought by the French Acadians expelled from Nova Scotia in the 1700’s. The result is so infectious it has devoted followers all over the country who love to “do the Zydeco”, bring bands to their communities, and travel to various festivals. The Waterfront Blues Festival has become a must go-to event, drawing dancers from across the US and Canada.
Portland’s own active Zydeco dance community, Cascade Zydeco, www.cascadezydeco.com, looks forward to the festival every year, sponsors bands, teaches basic lessons at the festival, staffs a booth, and welcomes all to enjoy.
Grammy-winning ‘Zydeco Junkie’ Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band return this year to serve as host and house band for the Festival’s Zydeco/Cajun party Friday and Saturday on the Front Porch Stage. Between acts, Cascade Zydeco Association instructors will show you the moves!
THE PORTLAND BLUES EXPERIENCE ‘PBEx’ is a dancer-run exchange event where dancers from Portland invite dancers from all over the world to join them at the Waterfront Blues Festival. They offer hospitality in the form of hosting in their homes, transportation, excursions to experience Portland, meet-ups at the festival, primarily at the Front Porch Stage, DME “Rock the Boat” Dance Cruise and After Hours events, and all night ‘Late Night’ dance parties nightly.
Founder Brenda Russell believes that the Blues has the power to heal through movement and meditation inspired by the trance-inducing rhythms of the Blues, which allow people to connect with and release a wide range of emotions expressed through the music, and embodied in the dance. In addition Brenda believes our culture is suffering from a lack of organic sensual experiences, including sight, sound, touch, and movement, all of which are provided by the Blues.
Since 1999, the Cascade Blues Association has sent local acts to represent our region in The Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. Over the years, that competition, the Journey To Memphis, has selected a terrific collection of some of our area’s top talent, including several who have made the finals such as Junkyard Jane, Blind Rhino and Ben Rice & The iLLamtics, and even those who’ve taken home some of the top prizes, Ty Curtis Band (2nd place 2009), Karen Lovely (2nd place 2010), and most recently Rae Gordon & The Backseat Drivers (3rd place 2017).
The final round in the competition takes place each year on July 4 on the Front Porch Stage. Last year the CBA judges sent on to compete in Memphis in January Julie Amici & Dean Mueller as the solo act, Timothy James as youth act, and Sister Mercy as band, all of which you’ll likely see again at this year’s Festival.
Festival Map coming soon!
The festival takes place at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, just to the north and south of the Hawthorne Bridge on the west bank of the Willamette River.
It’s easy to reach the site from S.W. Naito Parkway, using the Hawthorne Bridge ramps or from the Esplanade.
Heading south on I-5 into Portland: Take the 4th Avenue exit (first exit after the Marquam Bridge). Turn right (east) on Market. Stay on Market until you reach Naito Parkway.
Heading north on I-5 into Portland: Exit at Naito Parkway. Go straight ahead to the festival.
Heading east on highway 26 into Portland: Get into the center lane before you get to the tunnel. Stay in that lane, which becomes S.W. Market. Stay on Market until your reach Naito Parkway.
The festival starts at noon each day.
Gates open at 11 a.m.
Street parking fills quickly. SmartPark and City Center Parking are great options. You can also park on the east bank of the river and walk across the Hawthorne Bridge or along the East Bank Esplanade. There is no designated festival parking.
- S.W. First and Clay
- Naito Parkway U-Park
- S.W. First and Jefferson
- S.W. Naito and Taylor
- S.W. Naito and Harrison
- S.W. 1st and Columbia
- S.W. Naito and Jefferson
- S.W. Fourth and Yamhill
- S.W. Third and Alder
Volunteer groups provide two bicycle parking locations on site: one near the main gate and one near the Oregonian Front Porch Stage at the north end of the festival site.
Take a TriMet bus, ride MAX light rail or hop on a Portland Street Car to avoid the parking hassle.
Be safe and be patient, as there will be traffic and heavy pedestrian use around the festival site.
For travel deals, hotel reservations, information about Portland’s attractions, local transportation and more, visit Travel Portland (1-877-678-5263).
You’ll also find visitor information on the festival site at the Information Booth.
This hotel overlooks the Willamette River and sits directly across the street from the festival. After-Hours shows featuring festival headliners take place in the Grand Ballroom.
The remodeled Hotel Rose sits across Naito Parkway and three blocks north of the festival site. Low-key jam sessions and acoustic performances after hours in the Bottle & Kitchen lounge.
The RiverPlace Hotel, located directly behind our Brewery Main Stage at the south end of the park.
This location offers great rates for both fans and artists. Downtown, 12 blocks southwest of festival.
Great rates for both fans and artists. Located across the river near Convention Center, a short cab ride from festival.
- Your festival passes
- Factory sealed water bottles (or empty reusable bottles)
- One 16x16x8” soft backpack/tote/soft-sided cooler
- One 6×8’ blanket
- One chair per attendee with no maximum seat height.
- Attendees with chair seats more than 12” off the ground will be required to sit in specially designated areas.
- Child stroller
- Phones & personal cameras (detachable lens no longer than 4″)
- Glass of any kind
- Hard-sided coolers or picnic baskets, including Styrofoam
- Hard-framed bags/backpacks
- Bags/backpacks larger than 16x16x8”
- Beverages other than water
- Controlled substances (alcohol, marijuana)
- Illegal drugs
- Umbrellas (unless rain is forecasted), tents and canopies
- Fireworks, weapons
- Balls and Frisbees
- Location flags/signs on sticks or poles
- Selfie sticks
- Professional audio or video recording devices
- Cameras with a detachable lens longer than 4″
- Animals, except service animals
- First-aid services
- Bicycle parking
- Concessions including food and drinks
- $1 bottled water
- Free water refill stations under the Hawthorne Bridge & park fountains
- Misting stations near the two main stages
- Festival Merchandise Booth
- Per the City of Portland, all Portland Parks are designated as smoke-free areas
- Keep passages free. Don’t block aisles, walkways, esplanade or other public areas
- Dispose of trash and recycling in designated receptacles
- No distribution of commercial advertisements
- Waterfront Blues Festival staff will close entry to Waterfront Park when the audience reaches capacity, as directed by the City of Portland Fire Marshal
- Obey all federal, state and City of Portland laws, ordinances, rules and regulations
- Do not enter non-public areas, i.e. offices, storage, vendor booths, “performers only”
- Respect property. Don’t take, deface, degrade, damage or destroy property
- Don’t disrupt or interfere with festival operations
- No physical or verbal harassment or abuse allowed
- Obey directions of festival management team and its authorized contractors
- No video or audio recording of concerts without permission from artist
The festival site is a City of Portland public park, with most of the terrain a sloping, grassy hill. The walkways are ADA accessible and there is a designated ADA seating area at the top of the bowl. The main entrance at S.W. Columbia St. provides the most direct access point to the ADA seating area. Please note that as with all seating in the venue, it is first-come, first-served. There is no reserved festival parking, unfortunately. Attendees can park in public lots and on the street. The closest parking garage is at S.W. First and Jefferson St., just a few blocks from the festival site.
The festival began in 1987 as the Rose City Blues Festival – a concert to support our local homeless population, sponsored by the Cascade Blues Association. Performers included John Lee Hooker, the Paul deLay Band, Curtis Salgado, Norman Sylvester Blues Band, and Lloyd Jones Struggle.
The countdown to the annual Blues Festival began in 1988 when Oregon Food Share, predecessor to Oregon Food Bank, became producer and beneficiary. That year, the festival raised $7,500 and 650 pounds of food.
In 1991, the festival was renamed the Waterfront Blues Festival.
During the past 30 years, the festival has steadily grown and is now recognized as one of the world’s premier blues festivals. Since 1988, the festival has raised more than $10 million and over 1,000 tons of food to benefit the Oregon Food Bank.
The festival has brought blues/soul/roots legends to Portland’s Waterfront Park, many of whom made their Northwest debuts at our festival. The festival introduced such legends as Little Milton, Irma Thomas, Solomon Burke and Isaac Hayes, as well such up-and-comers as Gary Clark, Jr. and Trombone Shorty, to Portland audiences for the first time. The festival main stage has been a launching pad for numerous regional acts, some of whom, like Liv Warfield (more recently known for her collaborations with Prince and Heart’s Nancy Wilson) have moved on to international venues, awards and careers.
Here’s a partial list of musicians who have graced our stages:
Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Luther Allison, Solomon Burke, Gregg Allman, Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters, Steve Miller Band, Taj Mahal, Mavis Staples, John Hiatt, James Cotton, Booker T & the MGs, Irma Thomas, Little Milton, Dr. John, Robert Cray, Charlie Musselwhite, Little Feat, the Neville Brothers, Keb Mo, Robben Ford, Magic Slim, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Trombone Shorty, Gary Clark Jr., Joe Bonamassa, Phoebe Snow, Isaac Hayes, Blind Boys of Alabama, Eric Burdon & the Animals, JJ Grey, Dan Hicks, Delbert McClinton, Doyle Bramhall, Los Lobos, Jonny Lang, J. Geils, Bobby Rush, Bobby Blue Bland, Honeyboy Edwards, The Chambers Brothers, Junior Wells, John Mayall, Gatemouth Brown, Johnny Copeland, Lucinda Williams, Jimmie Rogers, Fenton Robinson, Floyd Dixon… and hometown stars such as Curtis Salgado, Paul deLay, Linda Hornbuckle, Lloyd Jones and Janice Scroggins.
The Waterfront Blues Festival has earned many honors and awards over the years, including:
- Oregon Festival and Events Association’s Ovation Award for Oregon’s Best Festival, Civic Celebration or Community Event.
- Travel Portland President’s Award, recognizing the festival for its valuable contributions to Portland’s visitor industry.
- Listed as one of the top ten festivals in the United States by Essential Travel Magazine in the UK.
- Named one of the best outdoor music festivals by Outside Magazine.
- Cascade Blues Association [CBA] Muddy Award for Best Northwest Blues Event (Received so many years running, the CBA retired the festival from the category in 2012).
- Numerous CBA Muddy Awards for Northwest Blues Performance of the Year (Buddy Guy, Kevin Selfe & the Tornadoes Big Band, Paul deLay Tribute, among many others).
- Public Relations Society of America [PRSA] Spotlight Award for outstanding public relations work.
- Peter Dammann, festival Artistic Director: Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Blues Promoter of the Year; Cascade Blues Association’s Lifetime Achievement, Back What You Believe In, and Guitarist of the Year awards; inductee of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.
More coming soon!